Black Queer women lead mobilizations calling for justice for Marielle Franco

Black Queer Liberation in Brazil

Latin America’s Black and Indigenous liberation movements have served as the grassroots foundation to Latin Liberation since the inception of colonization in the region. Specifically in Brazil, which stands as example of Latin America’s Afro-Indigenous Identity, the struggle for decolonization, abolition, and Land Back is currently being carried out by some of the most marginalized, including the Black Queer community. 

When the Black Lives Matter movement reached Brazil it revealed many of the racial injustices Black Brazilians were living though, and in the middle of these protests we also began to see signs reading “Black Trans Lives Matter” and “Black Queer Lives Matter”. It then quickly became clear that the Black Queer community was facing a dangerous, and sometimes fatal, form of discrimination from both outside and within the Black community. If we agree on the importance of solidarity in movement building, then we understand the importance of the Black and Queer community working together in the struggle for liberation. This continues to be necessary now, two years after Black Queer Brazilians screamed at the world how dangerous it is to merely exist. Black Queer Brazilians are on the forefront of socialist movements throughout Brazil, running for political office, and creating safe spaces for Black and Indigenous folx from within and outside of the Queer community, all while under the threat of violence. 

Behind the perpetuation of this violence is Brazil’s right wing Conservative Liberal Party and president Jair Bolsonaro. Both have a long history of criminalizing poverty, promoting political violence, and destroying the world’s largest tropical rain forest and delicate ecosystem for the sake of profit. Since entering his presidency in 2019, Bolsonaro has led an unrelenting homophobic campaign that has resulted in deadly violence against the Queer community. We can see a clear spike in violence against the Queer community starting with Bolsonaro’s presidency, with 150 trans folx murdered in the first half of 2020 alone, most of them being Black. This attack on Queer identity, disproportionately affecting Black and Indigenous folx also has deep roots in Brazilian history with the first person given the death penalty for homosexuality being Tibira Maranhão, an Indigenous person from the state of Maranhão, by French colonizers. 

Simultaneously, Bolsonaro’s neoliberal war against Brazil’s most impoverished has disproportionately affected Black and Indigenous communities. It is no coincidence that Black Brazilians face very similar forms of police brutality and mass incarceration as their U.S. comrades, with Brazil holding the third-largest prison and jail population in the world, with 60% of those incarcerated being Black. The number only continues to grow as the privatization of prisons increases. Containing the largest Black population outside of Africa, and being the last Western nation to abolish slavery, combined with historical white supremacist leadership has led Brazil to become a breeding ground for institutional racism, very similar to that of the United States. Much like the U.S., Black folx make up a disproportionate amount of the population living below the poverty line, while remaining a minority of the overall population. Bolsonaro’s continued support of neoliberal policies has wreaked havoc on Black and Indigenous communities, and because Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America, these effects are not only contained within the country, but spread throughout the whole region becoming a larger and more dangerous threat.          

However, in response there has been massive organizing by Black Queer Brazilians, whose identities exist in this dangerous intersection, to protect Black and Queer folx. This includes running for office on socialist platforms, predominantly from the PSOL (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade). Black Queer activist Marielle Franco was one of these organizers, and served as a city council member in Rio de Janeiro to advocate for the protection of her community against the increasing amounts of police brutality in the city. She gained massive amounts of support from those living in Rio’s predominantly Black favelas, and as an out Queer Black woman was able to create relationships between people facing different types of oppression to cultivate a diverse range of solidarity amoungst struggles from LGBTQ+ discrimination to police brutality. Devastatingly however, corrupt right-wight Latin American governments are killing activists who are fighting to ensure that the land and people that are Latin America continue to exist. Franco was one such loss, having been assassinated on her way home from delivering a speech about Black women’s empowerment. She stood for solidarity between the Black and Queer communities and fought for creating a space where both of these identities could coexist and share commonalities outside the lived experience of struggle. Franco has and continues to inspire many more Black Queer Brazilians to stand up for liberation and against this violent oppression. 

After the assassination of Franco, both the Black and Queer communities mourned her death, and many more Black Queer women began organizing and running for public office on a socialist platform. Running for office shortly after the death of Franco, Erica Malunguinho, a transgender Black woman from São Paulo ran and won, becoming the first trans woman to hold a state legislature position in her state. Malunguinho began incorporating ancestral practices into her organizing work by founding Aparelha Luzia, a space for artists, organizers, dancers, and educators to exist safely in their identities and create. Aparelha Luzia takes root in its African ancestral practices by holding space as a modern day quilombo, which throughout Brazil’s history were places enslaved Africans could find a community of free Black people outside of slavery. Aparelhos also holds a unique place in Brazil’s history, serving as a place for organized resistance in the 70’s and early 80’s against the twenty-one year dictatorship. Today, Aparelha Luzia is a space for Black and Indigenous Brazilians across all spectrums of gender and sexual identities to exist freely, organize, and create new networks of solidarity that strengthen the liberation movement. This form of organizing, which is centered in the Black, Queer, and Feminist struggle, continues to grow throughout Brazil, and is being lead by Black Queer women. In Salvador, Bahia, the Brazilian state with the largest Black population in the country, has seen massive organizing in efforts to protect Black and Queer folx. Starting with Keila Simpson, president of Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transexuals)  and co creator of Mapa dos casos de Assasinatos de Travestis, Mulheres Transexuais, e Homens Trans (Map of the case of murders of Travestites, Trans Women, and Trans Men), Simpson has successfully created a platform aimed to expose the deadly reality of trans folx in Brazil while also letting trans folx know what areas are most violent or safe. Efforts to organize around education has also been a vital tool, Rita Conceição and Daí Costa, two Black lesbian revolutionaries, have been organizing Queer Black women through educational empowerment. Costa, a Queer educator, Afro-feminist, and candomblista (a practitioner of Candomblé) has organized through university spaces and Núcleo de Pesquisa e Extensão em Culturas e Sexualidades (The Culture and Sexuality Research and Extension Center), to dismantle stereotypes against both Black Queer Brazilians and those who still practice traditional African religions. Conceição, creator of Bahia Street, a community organization meant to teach Queer and Black women skills in community building, participating in political spaces and policy making, as well some of the the knowledge and appreciation of traditional African culture and religion, further connecting them to there Black identity. 

The Black Bixa movement reflects the historic past of Queer organizing, and how powerful and interpersonal movement building can be when when we strive for true inclusivity within our own communities. We can see this same form of movement building in the US during the 80s and 90s, where again, Black Queer organizing played a foundational role in providing community and basic resources to folx during the AIDS epidemic, while continuing to make significant strides both culturally and politically. This form of solidarity is essential as the Black Liberation struggle continues to grow, we must strive for complete inclusivity, and protect those who are most marginalized within our own communities by speaking up against all forms of oppression. As Black Queer folx begin to feel empowered in their identity, the Black community must commit to dismantling its internalized homophobic views and the white supremacist views within the Queer community. Brazil is an example of how this solidarity building starts from within the community and leads to movements grounded in grassroots coalitions and the understanding of how different lived experiences can work to build a movement together.